This has been a fulsome week:
Tuesday and Wednesday were dedicated to preparations for the ‘Explore Your Archive’ event, held at the National Library of Wales on November 22. Teaching carried on around and about the construction of a script, PowerPoint, and workshop materials. It’s difficult to quantify how much time and effort the MA students had invested in the project. It had been considerable, and showed. In pairs, they presented an engaging breadth of ideas and potentialities with the panache of seasoned professionals. The School could be rightly proud of them; this was a fine example of public engagement:
Thursday. 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: My phone was almost exhausted of charge and I’d forgotten my camera and iPad. No photography, then, until I returned home this evening. Only words. These would need to be (and could be) sufficient unto the day. (S = student; T = Tutor):
S: ‘I didn’t know what to paint, so I painted the Venus at the top of the stairs. I go passed it every day’. Van Gogh’s painting of Gauguin’s boots: an attitude of curiosity about the ordinary. Using the mundane and familiar aspects of our lives as a resource. Preferring the aesthetic of a damp patch to a Titian. Automatic writing. Patty Smith’s poetry. Send a postcard to yourself every day. There’s nothing wrong about working on paper. T: ‘But do you know why you like pattern?’ Buy better brushes that are more appropriate to the task. Don’t over emphasise a contrast; look to the whole before determining the measure of the part. Commit yourself to several paintings on the same subject. (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (November 24, 2017) 1).
Today. 8.00 am: Boxes were transported from the studio to the front passage. 8.50 am: Off to School to meet Mr Garrett (my ‘roadie’) who drove me (with table and stand installed) back home to pick up the boxes and on to Bethel chapel. Dr Williams had already opened up. From 9.30 am until the advertised beginning of the event, I set up furniture, attached cables, plugged in patches, and booted up computers. It’s hardly worth frightening oneself by thinking about all the things that could go wrong at this stage. Any one piece of equipment or connector might fail. I’ve always taken as many precautions as my imagination could conceive. One day, I’ll be caught out. 11.00 am: I began an operational test:
Everything was fully functional. Thereafter, I could throw myself into my agenda for the day:
11.10 am: I’d prepared a number of samples to play through the PA. These were recorded using a microphone set in the central aisle at the rear of the main room, downstairs. I wanted to capture the sound of the samples in conjunction with the building’s ambience. In all likelihood, these recordings will be mixed in with the studio recordings:
I walked around the chapel interiors (downstairs and upstairs), listening to the acoustic properties of the playback as it interacted with the capacious interior. I hadn’t reckoned on how solemn, stirring, and eerie the voice of the Rev. Douglas MacMillan would sound, once more resounding within that building as it had done 38 years ago. This was, too, the voice of a now dead man, reanimated … resurrected. As the recordings proceeded, the noises of the world outside bled into mix – just as they had done when the original, analogue capture was made. At 12.30 pm: I began recording only the external noises: children and seagulls screeching, cars passing, doors banging, footsteps passing by the front and sides of the chapel. Those sounds had their own melancholy. They’re the noises, so I recalled, that’d inhabited the silences between prayers in chapels. The absence of visitors during the morning was welcome in this respect. (Not that I’d assumed there’d be any, either then or after lunch.) This was not a performance; this was chapel as studio. I was at work.
12.40 pm: My hands only were cold. Before lunch, I relocated the microphone in the pulpit:
I’d become aware that I was hearing a particularly resonant reflection of the PA output, as the sound bounced off the gallery façade and the rear wall. This would be the preacher’s perspective on their own voice. Over lunch (some mini sausage rolls and a packet of Pombear), I was the audience for my own work. I’ve been curious about volume levels in a public environment. I like loud. (Cinemas rarely present films loudly enough. Sound must be felt as well as heard.) At higher amplitudes, the building resonates (collaborates) more noticeably. The composition entitled ‘Intervals’ sounded formidable.
1.20 pm: Once the recordings were made, I moved towards unknown territory – heavily processing sounds played from the cassette tape recorders through modulators at high volume, and capturing the acoustic on the microphone. I developed a sound that was clearly influenced by that of the fairground as it had drifted on the wind from Park Avenue and into my studio on Monday evenings over the past fortnight: menacing; hellish. Throughout, I asked myself the question: ‘How does the sound articulate the theme or concept of the work?’ It’s not enough that it appeals to the ear alone.
By mid afternoon, I’d realised most of the chaotic noises that could stand in for a mind ravaged by dementia. The final endeavour of the day was to record a modulation of white noise at very high volume. Those living with the disease often suffer from this sound in their head as a constant. Dreadful!
5.00 pm: Packing was well underway. This had been a fruitful day. 5.20 pm: Homeward.